All 12 Lord Curry of Kirkharle contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Wed 10th Jun 2020
Agriculture Bill
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Thu 9th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 14th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 16th Jul 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 23rd Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 28th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 15th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Tue 22nd Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 1st Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
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3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 20th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 9th Nov 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 13 May 2020 - large font accessible version - (13 May 2020)
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as listed on the record. I have farmed as a tenant in Northumberland all my life. Much has been said already about the significance of this Bill: to take a blank sheet of paper and have the opportunity to shape how our countryside is going to be managed for the next two, three or four decades is a huge privilege and an immense responsibility. The Bill must be fit for purpose. The direction of travel as outlined in it is absolutely correct.

In 2001, I was responsible for a report on the future of food and farming, and on page 74 I wrote these words:

“Public funds should be refocused on public goods.”


I am therefore delighted that after nearly 20 years, we are making progress. This Bill, along with the Environment Bill, present an opportunity to create an exciting new vision for the management of our precious countryside. There is huge ambition within our farming and food sectors to re-establish ourselves as world leaders in agri-food science and to be innovators in sustainable food systems; to be renowned for our health, safety and high welfare standards and ethically produced food; to have consumers both here at home and abroad who value what we produce; and to be connected with the countryside and the value and the benefits that it delivers. We can clean up the water and the air and we can improve the quality of our soils and help to capture a lot more carbon. We can help to restore habitats and deliver a wide range of vital outcomes, targeted on a geographical basis. We can help to mitigate the impact of climate change. Why should we not be first past the post in achieving net zero carbon emissions? We can deliver these outcomes if the schemes are designed correctly and if the Treasury recognises the huge potential of investing far greater than the current level of spend in the countryside.

I would like to address three concerns and to support many more which have been referenced in this debate. First, we will not realise this exciting ambition if our market and our confidence are undermined by the importing of cheap food, negotiated in hastily signed trade deals which are not subject to our standards. Repeated reassurances by Ministers, even in recent letters, that this will not happen are not enough. We need a commitment in the Bill or a standards commission.

Secondly, I turn to the proposed timetable. Seven years of transition looked like a sensible approach when it was announced four years ago, but the distractions which have taken place since put that in serious doubt. The pilot ELMS have just got going. Farmers know that their current support systems are going to be dismantled but they have no idea how the new schemes will be designed. They have no knowledge of the definition of the value of the public goods that they will be encouraged to deliver, and there is much to do. The scale of the change is unparalleled and time is short. Farmers need advice and time to make correct decisions about their future. We are not ready. If the Government are wedded to the transitional process which is to start next year, an additional year should be added to allow a smoother transition—eight years instead of seven. The gap between the demolition of the BPS and the availability of ELMS in 2024 is a serious problem, so my plea to the Minister is, “Mind the gap.” It is better that we take time and succeed in delivering this exciting new programme, than rush it and fail. There is too much at stake.

Thirdly, despite the focus on productivity, there is no reference in the Bill to skills and training, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Carrington. Having a highly skilled and professional industry is essential to improving productivity, reducing carbon emissions, maintaining high welfare standards and the successful application of ELMS. This should be included in the Bill.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, I regret the fact that there is no impact assessment attached to the Bill. I also support concerns that have been expressed about tenant farmers, and will raise these in Committee.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I remind the noble Lord of the speaking time.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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In closing, I thank the Minister for his willingness to discuss the Bill in his usual open and friendly manner. It is appreciated.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 9th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (9 Jul 2020)
Moved by
12: Clause 1, page 2, line 11, leave out “and better understanding of the environment” and insert—
“(ba) increasing understanding, knowledge and skills relating to the environment, farming, food production, and the impact of climate change on agriculture;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment allows the Secretary of State to provide specific financial assistance for the work of furthering understanding, knowledge and skills. It differentiates the ‘public good’ resulting from educating and engaging people from that which arises from supporting public access and enjoyment.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as listed in the register. This group covers quite a wide range of topics; I will focus on Amendment 12. The subject of this amendment was referred to in the debate on Tuesday, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and in the winding-up speech by the Minister, which I found very encouraging. In fact, this amendment feels as if we are picking up where we left off on Tuesday evening.

We are, quite correctly, spending a lot of time debating the definition of public goods and what activities should be included within the ELM scheme. There can be absolutely no doubt that the education of our children and helping them to understand the importance of the management of the countryside, the value of farming, the value of the environment and the importance of food and their diet, particularly in the light of the obesity crisis, is a public good and, I suggest, one of the most critically important we will discuss in debating the Bill.

I must declare an interest, in that we created a classroom on our farm and hosted lots of school visits, many from socially deprived areas of Newcastle, supported by the Country Trust and Farm and Countryside Education. This has long been a passion of mine. Some children who visited our farm had never set foot in the countryside. They had never seen an animal, never mind touched one, other than domestic pets. They had no idea how food was produced. The experience is transforming, provided the visit is linked to curriculum-based subjects and is seen as part of an integrated programme. However, this is not just about contributing to academic achievement; it is also about character development and providing an enriching, life-changing experience. More than 19,000 children currently visit farms as classroom visits every year, and many more visit with their parents through events such as Open Farm Sunday.

There is a serious disconnect between the 66 million people who live in Britain and what takes place in the countryside. This is of fundamental concern and of the highest priority, in my view. If we are to change attitudes and bridge this chasm, we need to invest in our children, and the Bill is an opportunity to help.

I will not duplicate what was said on Tuesday evening, because the debate was very detailed, but a

“better understanding of the environment”,

as it is worded in the Bill, is too narrow. Understanding the environment is essential, but so is an understanding of farming and food production, diet and health, and climate change. Therefore, “educational access” should be included in the wording. Public access is far broader than just keeping footpaths open and being able to ramble and enjoy our beautiful countryside, as was mentioned on Tuesday. The countryside is also a place for therapy and rehabilitation. Its potential contribution to the nation’s health needs to be given far more prominence and recognised much more by the Department of Health and Social Care. Social prescribing, as mentioned in the debate by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and others, is important. I declare an interest as president of Social Farms & Gardens. Care farming has a huge role to play in this regard. The omission of educational access as defined in the amendment leaves it as discretionary—an ad hoc and passive attitude to this issue, rather than a commitment.

I urge the Government to ensure that public support for public goods includes stand-alone educational access payments for high-quality farm education, rather than just being tied to the higher-tier settlement within the ELM scheme, as I understand is the current plan. That could exclude large numbers of farms which provide an excellent experience for thousands of schoolchildren. We should be even more ambitious and commit to all schoolchildren having the opportunity of at least one meaningful countryside experience. That will require significantly greater farm capacity for school visits than we have at present, not less, which could be the case if support is limited to the higher tier. Perhaps the Minister could reassure us on this point. I beg to move.

Amendment 13 (to Amendment 12)

Moved by
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Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness [V]
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I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said, which has clarified the position. I think that I am perfectly entitled to ask such questions in Committee for elucidation of what he has said—as he will appreciate, I cannot ask him a question about what he has said until he has said it—and that is the great value of Committee stage. With that, I am happy not to move my amendment.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the support that all noble Lords who have participated in this wide grouping have given. I thought that many of their comments were extremely interesting and helpful on the need for local food, sustainability, productivity, ensuring that our environmental objectives are being met and, of course, diversification. I am particularly encouraged by the support for Amendments 12 and 13.

I thank the Minister for his usual excellent, comprehensive, fulsome and detailed response, a lot of which was extremely valuable. I am grateful for the endorsement of the importance of education and of the educational experience of schoolchildren. I absolutely agree with what he said of his experience of that: it is life-changing for schoolchildren, as he described, to experience running through crops and to experience how milk is produced. I stress to him that this support is provided at all levels within the ELM scheme. It is essential that we maximise the benefits available through farms that are willing to host school visits.

In the interests of brevity in my introduction, I resisted the temptation to mention the senior leadership group on skills and the intention to establish a professional body. I thank the Minister and welcome his comments on that and support for it. As he said, it is a critical and essential development. Through him, I thank his department and officials for the invaluable support, advice and guidance that they have given on this issue. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 12 withdrawn.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (14 Jul 2020)
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, it is very nice to hear the noble Lord; I enjoy having this dialogue. I am advised that your Lordships will have three times the amount of time, with the six days or more, to consider this Bill in Committee. We should use it wisely; we need to get through a lot of groups. The whole point calls for a bit of good old-fashioned common sense.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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I thank the Minister for his usual detailed responses, but I would like to probe him a little more on whether food security is a public good. He is quite correct in saying that there is a market for food. If that is the definition, clearly production of food is not a public good. However, many times in the past the market has not adequately rewarded me for the food I have produced as a farmer. If we want a nation fed on healthy, wholesome food and schoolchildren need healthy meals, one could argue that the need to intervene could occur at some stage in the future. We do not know what the market will be like when we leave the European Union.

The Minister is quite correct that we will discuss Clause 17. This is important and I very much welcome it, but it does not state what the Government will do if there is a food security crisis. I suggest to the Minister that it may be appropriate to reconsider whether food security should be included as a public good, should the Government need to intervene at some stage in future.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 16th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (16 Jul 2020)
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on this amendment, so ably proposed by him and the two noble Baronesses who have just spoken.

I am no expert on agriculture, but I live in the Isles of Scilly, and I want to give a small example of the need for an abattoir there, which may be similar to the example of Scotland just given by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. There are five inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. They all have livestock—cows and often pigs—and they provide some good conservation grazing, overlooked by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. All the farmers are very much in favour of having an abattoir on the islands and would probably increase the number of cows they have if this were the case.

One problem at the moment is that they go from the off-islands in their trailers in a small freight ship to St Mary’s, and then on to another freight ship to Penzance, which takes about five hours on a good day—it does not travel on a bad day. They may then be trailed as far as Plymouth, which probably takes another five hours or so, and then, as we all know, the animals are rested before being slaughtered. Another problem is that there is an enormous cost to this. Some farmers say that the feedstuffs they have to buy cost three or four times as much as on the mainland.

There is an enormous interest in having a fixed abattoir on St Mary’s. The Duchy of Cornwall, which is the landlord here, has told me that it would be keen to see one built here now that the problems of remote veterinary oversight, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, have been overcome. All the farmers would use it but the problem, of course, is the capital cost. It is expensive and would not be used all the time but, once it was operational, it would wash its face because there is a big demand for local meat here, grown locally. Even when it goes to the mainland and comes back in butchered portions it is very popular—I think it is really good.

My only comment on the amendment itself is that for us in Scilly, “slaughtering” would need to include a cutting room and butchery. They may need to be part of it. Again, I am no expert on this; some other noble Lords who have spoken, or the Minister, may be able to put me right. But if we are going to slaughter the animals here on this island—or, I suggest, in other remote areas in the Scottish islands or parts of the mainland—we need to butcher and prepare them, and then be able to sell them locally. That would be really beneficial to the local economy at this time, when many hill farmers and remote farmers are very concerned about what will happen after Brexit.

When the Minister comes to wind up, I hope that he will either agree to this amendment or invite us to a meeting or two and come up with his own suggestions on this small but very serious problem. It could enable the hill farmers and island farmers—and probably remote farmers in Cornwall as well—to survive and prosper, using local and rare breeds on occasions, along with many other benefits of local delivery. I fully support the amendment.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as on the register. In addition, I chair The Prince’s Countryside Fund and this is an issue of deep concern to that fund, which has attempted to provide support to some of the threatened abattoirs, particularly on the Scottish islands referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I also declare that I speak as a former chair of the Meat and Livestock Commission, which I was when much of the EU legislation to which she also referred was introduced, leading to the closure of a lot of small abattoirs.

I very much support Amendment 87, sponsored by my noble friend Lord Trees. The geographical network of abattoirs across the United Kingdom is essential to ensure that local livestock producers have slaughtering facilities. These UK livestock producers are becoming increasingly worried about their future at present and feeling threatened on a number of fronts. There is high-profile media support for plant-based protein, for example, as referred to in debate on the Bill earlier this week, and that land should be converted from meat production to plant-based food. A vast proportion of the landscape of Britain is incapable of producing plant-based food for direct human consumption. It delivers a huge range of environmental benefits by grazing livestock, including biodiversity and carbon capture. This was referred to comprehensively by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in debate on the previous group of amendments.

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Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 195 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee; Amendment 197 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch; and Amendment 207 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to which I and others are signatories.

Clause 27 is about fair dealing with agricultural producers and others in the supply chain. For a considerable time I have felt that there has been an imbalance in the supply chain that has been disproportionate and has had a diminishing impact on producers. If we believe in public money for public goods, we should be trying to cherish and protect our farm producers.

The Groceries Code Adjudicator is perhaps a very good place for the regulations specified in Clause 27 to be enforced. I would like the Minister to indicate how the regulations will be governed; in the absence of that, I can see a need for proper scrutiny and oversight of the supply chain. That is a missing area. Surely the oversight could be provided by the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

I pay tribute to Christine Tacon. I recall that when the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, was chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place, of which I was also a member, we took evidence from Ms Tacon and examined the relationships within the supply chain.

I also believe—and this is a singular view—that smaller retailers should be subject to scrutiny as well, because they have caused many major problems for producers in our supply chain.

We need greater joined-up working between Defra and BEIS, but to provide that oversight, we also need the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I see a direct link between Amendments 197 and 207. This would ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts was given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator. As well as telling us how the regulations will be governed, perhaps the Minister will advise us about ongoing discussions between Defra and BEIS about a possible role for the GCA in this respect. Or perhaps there would be another body. But surely the body that has been tried and tested, and has proved its worth, should be the one.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 197, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to Amendment 207, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and others. I very much welcome Clause 27. The Government’s commitment to include fair dealing within supply chains in the Bill is important and much needed.

I speak as someone who established a reasonably successful agricultural co-operative to market livestock, finished beef cattle and lambs, during the 1990s, so I am only too well aware of pressures in food supply chains. I still have the scars. Clause 27 goes into a huge amount of detail on how fair dealing obligations will be applied. That is welcome. For far too long, insufficient information has been available on input costs and benchmarks on which to base sensible modern contractual arrangements.

As has already been said, when pressure is applied to supply chains, the primary producer is, ultimately, the fall guy and the weak link in the chain. The buck stops there. So, however welcome the provision is, I am concerned because, in this part of the Bill, the Government are particularly vague about the location of the administration of the function. Like others who have spoken, I think I understand why. I am aware that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is reluctant to expand the scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady McIntosh, have said, under the current chair, Christine Tacon, the office of the adjudicator has been established with huge credibility and influence. It is the logical home for this function, and I would encourage the Minister, in negotiations with his colleagues in BEIS, to persist in trying to achieve that outcome. There is no other logical place, even if we consider the RPA, with the experience for the function to be sited there. A new chair of the Groceries Code Adjudicator will be appointed later this year, when the current chair steps down, and that will present an opportunity to review and expand its remit. I support the amendments.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 197, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I thank him for his detailed approach in introducing the amendments. This amendment to Clause 27 provides the opportunity to look again at the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, and to examine whether it could be extended to include responsibility for overseeing fair dealing obligations in relation to farmers and producers. More importantly, perhaps, the amendment also provides an opportunity for the Government to explain and expound on their position.

Since the adjudicator’s role was established in 2013, there have been calls from farming unions in Wales and the rest of the UK to address fairness in this part of the supply chain by bringing the sector into her remit. Clause 27 allows the Secretary of State to impose new fair dealing regulations and to provide for enforcing those regulations, and allows

“complaints relating to … non-compliance to be referred to a specified person”—

in effect, creating a new body under a new leader.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place recommended that the adjudicator is

“a more logical entity to oversee fair dealing obligations”,

and it could

“see no reason why fairness in the food supply chain should be governed by two separate processes and enforcement bodies.”

In Wales, the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee agreed with the sentiments of the Farmers Union of Wales and the Tenant Farmers Association Cymru, which expressed concern that the Government were not seeking to achieve the desired outcomes of Clause 27 by expanding the role of the adjudicator.

In their response to the EFRA Committee’s report, the Government said that

“no final decisions have been taken about the body that would oversee and enforce the new codes of practice”,

although their positive comments about the potential role of the Rural Payments Agency seemed to point in its direction. The Government do, however, rule out a role for the adjudicator, referring to the call for evidence in 2016-17, when they concluded that they would not extend the adjudicator’s remit to indirect suppliers, because

“there was insufficient evidence of a market failure across the supply chain to justify a major government intervention”.

It appears, however, that circumstances have changed somewhat in the intervening three or four years, and the Government themselves have now recognised that there is now a need for further regulations—hence Clause 27. It seems illogical that the new regulations should lead to the creation of a new body when a person and a body that operate in that field, and have the necessary expertise, already exist.

If, as they say, the Government have not made a final decision, my hope is that in the promised industry consultation they will be open-minded, and that the option of the new role being incorporated into the functions of the adjudicator will be included in that consultation. In the meantime, I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some clarity about the Government’s thinking and tell us, in particular, whether they consider a completely new body to be desirable, and how they view the relative merits of the Rural Payments Agency and the Groceries Code Adjudicator in relation to the new regulations. I support the amendment, and look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jul 2020)
Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 143, to which I have put my name. I too have very real concerns that Defra will simply not be ready for the transition period to begin in 2021 and that farming will suffer as a result. To provide the Government and farmers with sufficient time to prepare for transition, we should start it in 2022, rather than 2021. This way, we can ameliorate the transition chasm that I have discussed before. The House has spent four long days in Committee, debating many variations of ELMS, and has made its way through Clauses 1 and 2 of the 54-clause Bill. We hope to rush through the bulk of this legislation in another two days, under huge time pressure. Scrutiny cannot be sufficient in these circumstances and major aspects of this crucial legislation will be barely considered.

The Government have suggested that time is of the essence and that this Bill simply has to be passed so that the transition period can begin on 1 January 2021. They say that farmers will not be able to be paid if it does not. This is simply not true. It was easy for Parliament to extend direct payments to farmers for 2020; we can simply repeat that process. Given that the Government have confirmed that they will maintain the level of agricultural funding until the end of this Parliament, this will have no negative impact on the Treasury or on budgets. What it will do is permit Defra to prepare for ELMS in an orderly manner.

Despite the best efforts of its overstretched and underfunded staff, Defra is transparently far behind where it needs to be. The EFRA Committee took evidence on 16 June 2020 from Defra’s two leads: Tamara Finkelstein, its Permanent Secretary, and David Kennedy, the director-general of food, farming and biosecurity. I recommend the transcript of their evidence to all noble Lords, as it provides a valuable insight into its much-delayed progress. They admit to considerable delays in the tests and trials programme caused first by Brexit, which took many staff for emergency no-deal planning, and then by coronavirus, which meant that many key tests and trial programmes have not begun.

Defra is triaging. For example, it has confirmed that it has abandoned plans to build a new computer system to administer ELMS. Instead, it will be delivered using the current SITI Agri system, which is used by the RPA to administer BPS. Reading between the lines, it appears that tier 1 of ELMS is effectively going to be little more than BPS plus greening obligations by a new name, administered by the same team, using the exact same technology. I would appreciate the Minister’s confirmation of this.

On Thursday, the Minister helpfully confirmed that Defra would publish a multiannual financial assistance plan this autumn. Given the incredible delays disclosed by Defra, what details is it really able to provide? Will the Minister confirm whether, but for Brexit meaning Brexit, Defra would prefer to agree to this amendment and give itself longer to prepare for the transition?

I warmly support the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, which also relate to the transition chasm. However, I cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. ELMS is optional—the quicker the transition, the less uptake there will be and the worse the outcome for our environment.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I fully support Amendment 144, in the name of my noble friend Lord Carrington, to which I was happy to attach my name. I am very concerned about the gap in support as the current basic payment scheme is unwound and access to the new ELM scheme becomes available, as planned, in 2024. As I said at Second Reading, this is fraught with risk. The delays caused by indecision on Brexit and then the impact of coronavirus mean that the ELMS pilots are just under way. Meaningful conclusions will take a couple of years or more to interpret. The design of the schemes, and the value of public goods that we hope will be delivered by this brave new model for supporting the management of the countryside, must be promoted to farmers and land managers with confidence. We need the evidence from the pilots and there is no slack in the timetable to experiment or for systems to fail and be rerun, which is why many of us are deeply concerned about the Government’s reluctance to change the current seven-year transition plan. At Second Reading, I suggested that the Government should be willing to extend the period to eight years.

Under the current plans, there will only be three years by the time the Bill becomes law to draw conclusions from the pilots and then launch the ELM scheme to the entire farming sector. Tens of thousands of family farmers are not prepared for the scale of the change that the Bill will introduce. It is the most fundamental change in support, and the greatest cultural change, that any farmer in Britain today has ever faced. At present, there is no way farmers can prepare for this change because, for obvious reasons, there is no information available on the basis of which they can begin to consider their future plans and make decisions.

This change in policy is a unique opportunity to facilitate restructuring of the sector, but this cannot be rushed. Every farmer needs to consider the impact of the change on their individual business. As a result of the scale of this challenge, it is inevitable that there will be a capacity problem. The quantum of qualified consultants who are trusted and able to provide 30,000 or 40,000 farmers with informed advice in good time to make considered decisions will be an enormous challenge. To ensure that the potential benefits which the ELM scheme can deliver, and which will hopefully be realised, will require careful consideration by each farmer and land manager.



If ELMS is launched in 2024 as planned, there will be a deluge of applications and the capacity of the RPA and Natural England to cope with the volume will be stretched to the limit. The possibility of every farmer who wishes to participate in the ELM scheme being able to do so in 2024 is unrealistic. For all these reasons, the Government need to think very carefully about the timetable. This amendment is designed to help smooth the impact. Limiting the dismantling of support from the BPS to a total reduction of 25% until the ELM scheme is available is a sensible approach.

I restate what I said at Second Reading: I reassure the Minister that I am enthusiastic about this bold change in policy and genuinely believe that we can lead the world in delivering a wide range of crucial outcomes from the management of the countryside, provided that the policy is well designed and land managers are appropriately incentivised. It would be a disaster if such an important change in policy was rushed through and we failed to engage appropriately. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the department will adopt the timetable proposed in this amendment. It would be very much appreciated by farmers and land managers and would ensure a greater chance of achieving the desired outcomes.

Very briefly, I have considerable sympathy with the purpose of Amendment 149 tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. Smaller livestock family farms, both in LFAs and in the lowlands, are the most vulnerable to these changes. They manage some of the most precious landscapes in Britain and are a crucial part of rural communities. The choice of taking a hard-nosed commercial approach, resulting in many being forced out of business, or a more sympathetic view that would require some special care and support to help those farming businesses adjust to change is a no-brainer, otherwise the impact could be disastrous. The Minister is aware that I chair the Prince’s Countryside Fund. We have supported over 1,000 such farmers through the Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, with considerable success. It is essential that these crucial farming families are given appropriate support to ensure that they can adapt their businesses, not just to survive but to prosper in this brave new world.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will not detain you long. I have every sympathy with the impatience of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to get on with improving our biodiversity. However, I do not think it is feasible to bring this forward from seven to five years, so I am afraid that I cannot support that, however much I am keen for the things that we all hope for to take place.

I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Caithness. The more I have listened to our proceedings, the more respect I have for farmers—I had a great deal of respect for them before—and I can imagine what it is like facing these changes with all the uncertainty that we have just been talking about. Having been not in farming but in retail for most of my working life, I can imagine the concerns about the future. I would also say, however, that we always work to deadlines. If we extended things, we would be in a similar position, so I cannot support any extension as discussed—very eloquently—by many noble Lords.

I have put my name to Amendment 147 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, principally to emphasise my concerns over any reduction in animal welfare. I have no doubt at all that British farming has the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and I do not think for one minute that that will be negated by anything in the Bill, but I wanted to underline my concerns on that.

Again, I give my support in as far as upland farms, and to some extent some livestock in the lowlands, are some of our most precious guardians of the countryside and are really threatened by some of these measures. I urge the Government to look at this; I am sure that they will.

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Continuity, flexibility and a joined-up approach to these new funds—as driven by the content of Amendments 155 and 156—would be highly relevant in these difficult times. I hope that the Minister will take on board all three amendments in his summation of the debate.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lord Devon on Amendment 155, and of my noble friend Lord Cameron on Amendment 156.

As I said in an earlier debate, the changes in policy embraced by this Bill are a huge opportunity but a massive challenge. One challenge is the lack of clarity on rural development. I am concerned that the Government’s response to the Rural Economy Committee’s report—I was a member of the committee—rejected a recommendation that there should be a dedicated element of the shared prosperity fund for the rural economy. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Cameron, has said, there is confusion about where support will come from for farming families, whose survival will depend on diversified activity. It is very unclear where the boundaries are within the potential sources of funding. The scope of the ELM scheme is unclear; the future of the RDPE is unclear; and the long-awaited terms of the shared prosperity fund are unclear. All this is on top of the fact that we await the details of the Environment Bill.

The level of uncertainty is unparalleled; there are so many overlapping unresolved issues. Twice this afternoon Psalm 23 has been quoted, likening the potential risk that we face to

“the valley of the shadow of death”.

The psalm continues with the phrase

“I will fear no evil”,


so I am sure that the Minister will provide clarity on this important issue.

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I am very pleased to attach my name to Amendment 158, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. The tenant farming sector is hugely important in the United Kingdom. Some 30% of all agricultural land is tenanted. I have long been concerned about the future of the county farms estate. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, many have been disposed of, including in my own county of Northumberland. Indeed, in conjunction with the Tenant Farmers Association, I wrote a report in, I think, 2007 on this topic.

Many of the farms that remain under the ownership of local authorities are no longer smallholdings. Of course, it is important that farms of different sizes are available to let to tenants. I speak as someone who started farming in 1971 as a tenant on a relatively small mixed farm in Northumberland. We had then what we called a farming ladder: it was possible to start small and, through hard work and sound business skills, gradually move on to larger farms. The model worked really well and provided an entry into farming for those from outside established farming businesses. New blood is crucial for any industry sector, and certainly for farming. Many of today’s successful farming families started small and have built impressive rural businesses as a consequence.

County farms are clearly owned by local authorities, but, as I said in the aforementioned report, they are a national asset and should be retained. Too often, local authorities have taken short-term decisions to dispose of their landholdings to plug an annual funding gap without, in my view, considering seriously the strategic importance of these assets. There are innovative ways in which these estates, in partnership and in conjunction with their tenants, could provide a wide range of key services such as local food markets, educational access and other public services—including, potentially, energy generation—to try to ensure they are financially viable, as indicated in this amendment.

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Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington
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I am not sure I can be quite that brief, my Lords, but I will give it a go. I have added my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about food waste. To deal with that first, identifying and removing waste is the easiest way to improve any supply chain. I hope that the Government give serious consideration to this.

I hope they also start to address the marketing chain. The just-in-time delivery system, which produces something that we are perceived to want at the right point, without any capacity for things going wrong, has been exposed for not taking many bumps to be put off course. The fuel crisis did it, as did a pandemic. As pandemics go, this is not as frightening as some that we have been threatened with before—the bird flu crisis and others. Covid-19 is a very unpleasant disease that kills people; it is not the Black Death. The scientists tell us that worse is out there. How good would any supply chain be when put under even greater pressure? Other noble Lords have talked about war and political decisions. A few natural disasters and a breakdown in the food chain is a good way to start a war or political crisis.

Can we have greater frequency of checking? Three years is about right. Can we also take a good long look at waste in the chain? If we can manage to identify the waste, we will suddenly have spare capacity and our supply will look a little more secure.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, with some memorable contributions, including that from my noble friend Lord Krebs.

I fully support Amendment 162, as moved by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and supported by other noble Lords, which says that food security reporting should take place every year. Clause 17 is an important inclusion, and I am delighted that the Government added it. I cannot understand why, once the data capture systems have been identified and established, an analysis cannot be carried out and published each year. It is hugely important to be able to identify trends quickly and to react accordingly. There is a fundamental risk in waiting five or even three years, as proposed in Amendments 160 and 161, in that a major global event or some macroeconomic activity could distort the analysis within a single year. A major weather event can result in crop failure and disproportionately impact on commodity markets.

I agree with almost all the impressive comments made in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and I support his Amendment 172 other than on the frequency of the analysis. I believe that an annual report would reduce the risk of distortion by a global event and clearly identify trends. That was highlighted by the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. Harold Wilson said that a week is a long time in politics, and five years is a long time to wait to calculate the impact of climate change on global food production. As has been stated a number of times this evening, the proportion of home-produced food continues to decline—depending on which metric is used, it is around 60%. With a projected population increase in the UK to 70 million or more within the next decade, unless we actively encourage home-produced food, that proportion will decline even further.

I hesitate to contradict the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, but there are opportunities to increase food production. We already import a significant proportion of our fresh produce from water-scarce areas of the world, particularly Africa, where very often people do not have enough food to alleviate hunger within their own countries and communities. We not only have to find better ways to provide economic support for developing countries but should put in place strategic plans to wean ourselves off our dependence on fragile sources of imported food.

I agree with other Peers who have spoken in these debates that it is very unfortunate that we do not have the report from Henry Dimbleby to inform these debates—I hope we will have an indication of his recommendations later this month and before Report. We had an excellent debate last week on whether food security is a public good. It clearly is a public good, and I would be surprised if Henry Dimbleby does not endorse the importance of that fact. So the process of analysis must inform the response.

I therefore regard a five-year analysis of the data suggested in Clause 17 to be inadequate, and even a three year period, as proposed in Amendment 160 and 161. It is really important to inform both government policy and provide industry with information and data on which to develop strategic plans. We need annual reports. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I acknowledge the expertise in this area of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but am sceptical that her Amendment 218 would achieve the purposes she envisages and believe that it is unnecessary and indeed could be counterproductive. As my noble friend Lord Naseby mentioned, we already have excellent agricultural colleges, such as Shuttleworth and Cirencester.

The amendment represents an attempt to interfere with the supply of workers in ways which the market may or may not support. It presumes that there is likely to remain a shortage of trained agricultural workers. Is it not likely that further mechanisation will reduce the demand for agricultural workers? Is it not also true that much agricultural work does not require much training and is seasonal in nature? I ask the Minister to confirm that our future immigration policy will recognise the need and provide that foreign workers may be admitted to the UK for limited periods to carry out fruit picking and related jobs.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as recorded in the register. I want to speak to Amendment 218 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter, and the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Carrington, and express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her introduction of the amendment and for her comments.

The Minister kindly referred in his response to Amendment 12 two weeks ago—was it just two weeks ago?—to work on agricultural and horticultural skills that I have been involved with during the past two years or so. Of course, the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year highlighted how vulnerable we are to disruption when we depend so heavily on a seasonal labour supply from overseas. So I agree wholeheartedly on the need for a strategy to address this vulnerability. However, such a strategy should encompass all labour markets in agriculture and horticulture, not just those of seasonal workers. We are lagging well behind other professions in projecting our sector as an attractive career choice, with no clear signposting, no accurate labour market information, a fragmented and confusing landscape of skills delivery, very few nationally recognised qualifications and no record of individual achievements, including CPD.

A comprehensive skills strategy which includes engaging with schools, FE and HE institutions, the apprenticeship scheme and training and lifelong learning is long overdue. All of us who are involved with the agriculture and horticulture sectors are regularly impressed by the range of skills required to farm successfully, as listed by my noble friend Lord Carrington in an earlier debate and referred to again today. As has been stated, the digital age and robotics will extend the range of skills required to embrace the many challenges we face in a fast-moving world, whether improving productivity or delivering the multiple potential outcomes through the ELM scheme, as well as adding value in exploring markets for our produce.

As indicated earlier by both the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Carrington, I have been engaged in a cross-industry skills leadership group which has the widespread support of all key industry organisations. This is not an appropriate time to do a sales job, but the group has recommended the establishment of a professional body to raise the profile of the sector and the exciting opportunities that exist in it, to recognise national qualifications and standards, to establish a single national data source of information, and to provide signposting for both employers and employees to encourage career development and CPD.

I once again thank the Minister for his personal support in trying to achieve these objectives and for the constructive discussions with and advice received from his officials within the department. I have to say that I do not agree with the comments made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, a few moments ago.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. I pay tribute to the work that he has done and continues to do on the skills and leadership group.

In passing, I commend Amendment 219 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because I think there is a problem of affordable housing in this sector, particularly when it comes to migrant workers. We saw an outbreak of Covid recently at a facility where the facilities that were available were less than desirable.

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I too support Amendment 220. I remind the House of my farming interests as set out in the register.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, I have wanted to see an end to live export for slaughter for many years. The majority of the animals exported in recent years appear to be sheep. The figures are not clear, but it looks as if the numbers have come down dramatically. However, I am very worried that we may see them rise because we are looking for new trade agreements and deals abroad and there is without question a demand in some places for live animals for slaughter.

The majority of the sheep that currently go are cull ewes going to France for non-stun slaughter for religious festivals. English sheep are cheaper than French ones, and every sheep farmer here knows that the best time to sell your old ewes, if you have the stomach for it, is just before the end of Ramadan. As has been said, the calves that go now come mainly from Scotland and are destined for the continent. They are dairy bull calves, which are a by-product of the milk industry, and are destined either to be killed at about eight months old or to be re-exported to north Africa as adults for non-stun slaughter there.

As we have heard, those animals face very long journey times. The Scottish ones used to go via Ireland, then on a ferry all the way round to the continent, where they were distributed to the countries where they had been purchased. In the abattoir inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, which produced a recent report, we heard that the most distressing part of the journey is loading and unloading. On these long journeys, particularly with very young calves, that happens repeatedly—many, many times—to comply with the regulations when they are observed.

I understand that the English trade for such calves has largely ended because they are now finding a market in England for further rearing. Rose veal was heavily publicised and marketed, and people are now rearing them on contract for some of our main supermarkets and food outlets. One wonders whether the animal welfare, financial and environmental costs of sending some 3,500 Scottish calves to Europe every year could not be better avoided by good marketing and better provision in the Scottish abattoir system.

There are potential markets for all these animals at home and on the hook overseas. The campaign to sell rose veal was successful. Mutton was once highly prized but became unfashionable, despite the fact that, slow cooked, it has a great deal more flavour than highly prized new season spring lamb. With better marketing and promotion, it could be prized again. You never see it advertised in a butcher’s shop, yet I, as a sheep farmer, am often asked for it. I believe that the latent demand is there.

We are just about to embark on a number of important trade deals. As a livestock-producing nation, our products are likely to be in increasing demand, particularly in the Middle East and elsewhere where grass does not grow as ours does. We can, and must, expand our overseas markets, but, as the Government and their advisers say we should, slaughter the animals here, close the point of production, and export them dead, not alive.

We have heard a number of times during the long course of this Committee that we have wonderful, high animal welfare standards. In many areas, we do, of course, but we cannot simply shut our eyes and look the other way once we ship the animals that we have produced over national borders. I share the frustration of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and look to the Government to keep a promise at last.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 220. There is absolutely no question that we must maintain the highest standards of animal welfare. In the farming sector, we are proud of our standards and reputation for such standards, so we must not tolerate or condone bad practice. We must stamp it out and ensure that the regulations are enforced.

However, I am concerned about the amendment. The export of live animals for slaughter is without question an emotional issue and generates lots of public concern, as it has for a long time. When I chaired the Meat and Livestock Commission it invested in widespread research into the impact of transport on stress levels in sheep, cattle and pigs. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, we should slaughter animals as close to home as possible and add value wherever possible so that we benefit from the marketing of those products in local, mainstream or export markets. We absolutely should do what we can to achieve that, but, as has been said, the reality is that animals suffer the most stress when being loaded on to and unloaded from lorries, not during transport, provided that the lorries comply with EU legislation, such as on journey times, and have the correct facilities on board.

I have always found it rather odd that crossing the 22 miles of water of the channel is such a major problem. It is misleading to believe, as has been stated, that all animals are likely to be mistreated as soon as they arrive. The reality does not support this belief. All the EU abattoirs that I have visited—and I have visited a lot—were of the highest standard, although I confess that I have not been to abattoirs in central Europe. Finished sheep and cattle travel much further than 22 miles from islands around the United Kingdom, including Shetland and Orkney, to the UK mainland for further finishing and for slaughter. Many lorries transporting animals for further fattening or slaughter in the UK travel 220 miles, never mind 22 miles across the channel. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned, it is also often difficult to determine whether animals are being moved for slaughter, further fattening or breeding purposes, so it would be extremely difficult—almost impossible—to police the reason for movement.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have every sympathy for the sentiments behind Amendment 220, but I query the basis on which it is drafted. I experienced early on the concerns that people rightly have about the trade of live animals for export. It first came home to me when I was an MEP back in the mid-1990s and represented the port of Brightlingsea in north-east Essex. The trade was closed over Dover and moved to Brightlingsea so, mindful of the concern, I boarded the ferry and saw the movement of the animals from the truck on to the ferry. I must say, they were transported in much more comfort than any North Sea passenger, from my experience of ferries at the time.

I urge the authors of the amendment to go back to the RSPCA and, I am sure, Compassion in World Farming, to check the veracity of the allegations. It is true that 20, 30 or 40 years ago—I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lady Fookes has done in this regard —there were horrendous tales of the live trade in animals but, when you got to the basis of them, many were not in this country or even on this continent. I was appalled at that time to see that videos were being made and shown in schools in north Essex and south Suffolk to try to drum up support for banning the live trade.

As the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, just said, you have to be very careful to differentiate between animals that are being exported for fattening and slaughter and those that are being exported for breeding, showing and other purposes; as he rightly said, it is difficult to differentiate between the two.

I would like to see the live trade as it currently exists, certainly between here and mainland Europe, which I understand most of it is—that is, for every live animal that is exported, only six or seven are carried in carcass form. It is a very limited trade, it is highly regulated, and no farmer in their right mind would like to see an animal stressed by transport because the meat would be worthless and there would be no market for it at all.

There is a scenario that we seem to have lost sight of in this amendment: new subsection (6) cannot possibly apply to Northern Ireland because of the Northern Ireland protocol. I hope my noble friend will set out that it is simply not going to happen there.

I also hope my noble friend will take the opportunity to say—and I take great comfort from this fact—that if it is true that we are leaving the European Union and the transition period will end at the end of this year, the rules of the World Trade Organization will apply. I think the RSPCA is well aware of that fact. Under the “most favoured nation” clause and non-discrimination treatment, the likelihood is that the WTO would rule to prevent any such ban on the import or export of live animals under that principle.

With these few remarks, I hope my noble friend will continue to reassure us that this minimum, highly regulated level of trade can continue, but there are implications from the protocol and the WTO that I am sure he would wish to have regard to.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Lord Empey Portrait Lord Empey (UUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, and other noble Lords for their perseverance. The Minister has been granted the patience of Job. I fear that his patience may be frayed when we reach Report, but we thank him, the Public Bill Office and others for their enormous work in this marathon.

I will speak to Amendment 278 in my name, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for lending his name to it. It is clear from this group of amendments that an underlying fear exists. I want to see trade deals with third-party countries, but on the basis of helping the United Kingdom grow its economy and be more efficient, not of undermining significant parts of our industry. Over the last 40-odd years, the Government, consumer bodies, processors, retailers and farmers have expended an enormous amount of time, energy and money ensuring that UK food is produced to the highest standards possible. Why we would suddenly allow very inferior food products produced to a much lesser quality and standard into the United Kingdom to compete against our own superior goods I do not know, but it is possible.

I thank the Minister for arranging a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, and others, so that we can at least hear his point of view, and that of the Department for International Trade, but there are too many straws in the wind that concern me. We hear talk of tariffs being applied to imported products, whether from the US or elsewhere, to level the pitch, but what is introduced one day can be taken away the next. The Minister must understand that not all parts of the United Kingdom are playing on the same level pitch. My part of the country is still in the EU and, pertaining to the previous group of amendments, we are still subject to state aid rules. Who will negotiate and implement those, and who will deal with any infringement of those? It is unclear. From our point of view—this has resonance for other parts of the UK—the standards we will be required to adhere to will be the standards of the European Union. There is nothing wrong with having different standards, provided there is an equivalence, and that can apply also to finance and other things, but who is to determine the equivalence?

This goes back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, when she introduced this debate. A flash-in-the-pan commission will certainly not be able to do it. With no disrespect to the Minister and his colleagues, last October, when the withdrawal agreement was being made, promises were made about the arrangements not only to people in Northern Ireland but to the whole country. Those promises were not kept. Many of our representatives ended up endorsing a proposal that produced a border in the Irish Sea, and yet there continues to be a denial of this. Lest someone from the Box sends the Minister a note telling him that Northern Ireland will have unfettered access to the UK market, I point out that this is not guaranteed, because it is subject to negotiation with the European Union, which at present could require us to make export declarations if we are sending products to Great Britain. The Minister needs to bear that in mind.

We do not want to make life difficult for our international trade negotiators, but if a situation arose whereby our farmers were confronted with different and lower standards in Great Britain, then because Great Britain is our biggest single market, automatically our farmers would be uncompetitive, and that would apply also to those operating in less favoured areas, such as the Scottish and the Welsh. This is a very serious business that we are discussing. I know that the Minister will be anxious to reassure us, and I have absolutely no doubt that he is sincere in that undertaking, but between 2 October and 17 October last year, I saw black become white. Therefore, he cannot allow an undertaking to be sufficient. It must have a basis in law, and this Bill, since we are discussing agriculture, seems a logical place to put it.

Someone who has been in the system for a long time knows that when an amendment comes, it can be argued that “Now is not the right time, we are in the middle of negotiations” or “This is not the right vehicle because we have another vehicle coming down the track which would be a more suitable location for it.” We can deal only with the vehicle that is in front of us at any point in time. What might come around the corner is fine, but if there is a sincere commitment to maintaining current or equivalent standards, it should have no difficulty being written on to the face of the Bill. Consumers and producers throughout the United Kingdom are basically supportive of that. Were it our tradition in this House to vote on amendments in Committee, I would pursue that today, but another opportunity will arise on Report in the autumn. I urge the Minister to ensure that there is a positive response then.

Some of us find ourselves left in the EU and required by an international treaty, supported by the UK Government, to adhere to EU regulations, even though we will have no input on them, which is another matter. There is so much at stake here, and we believe that maintaining our standards is good for the health of our nation, our producers and our food security and supply, and for allowing the sector to reinvest and be efficient. However, if we decide, for whatever political reason, to cut and run, which could happen, and since decisions can be made overnight, as we have seen in recent months, we need some legal assurances that we are not going to be left in such a position in the future.

I appeal to my noble friend the Minister to ensure that when we come to Report, he and his colleagues consider the widespread views in this House and ensure that our agriculture sector, food processing and all the welfare issues that have been addressed are not forgotten about, and accept that a nod and a wink will simply not be sufficient.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. It is a huge privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I appreciate the comments of all the previous speakers on this group of amendments.

I will speak to Amendment 279 in my name, and thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for his support. I apologise in advance for taking slightly longer in introducing this amendment. It is impossible and would be quite wrong to run groupings of amendments in order of importance, but this group is among the most important we have debated over the seven days that we have spent on the Bill this month.

While having my long-awaited haircut last week, the hairdresser asked, “Are you involved in this chlorinated chicken issue?”, as it has become known, such is the level of public awareness. I am slightly concerned about being accused of jingoism in this wide-ranging debate about our production standards. Having farmed all my life, I know that our production standards are not always perfect. However, over the past 35 years that I have been involved at national level, we have striven to respond to consumer concerns, and even anticipate changes, and react accordingly. This is a dynamic space, and the standards of crop and livestock husbandry, including animal welfare, food safety and care for the environment, that we have in place today have been hard-won and are being delivered every day on our farms.

Standards are reviewed every year to make sure that they are relevant and appropriate. We absolutely must not undermine consumer confidence in our food. I experienced the consequences of that in the 1990s with BSE in beef when I chaired the MLC: beef sales dropped by 30% overnight. Scaremongering over hormones in imported beef could have a similar impact.

It is important to state that I had been working on this amendment and had it ready to table before the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, announced the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which has been launched today. Subsequently, the membership was also disclosed. I then found myself in a slight quandary. Do I table the amendment or not in view of the announcement? After careful consideration, I decided to proceed with the amendment for reasons that I will outline in a moment.

I was delighted by the announcement that the Government plan to establish the commission and I commend the Government for taking action. It was a pragmatic and sensible response to the rising tide of public concern about this issue. The appointment of Tim Smith as chair of the commission is an inspired choice. I know him well, as I do many other members of the commission. I am absolutely confident that, under Tim’s leadership, the commission will be thorough, will carry out its task with diligence and integrity and will seek additional expertise and advice if needed, which it will be, to ensure a good understanding not only of the issues at stake but the global marketplace that we are trading in and stakeholder views, in particular those of the environmental NGOs and consumer organisations. So I welcome this commission.

I have three fundamental concerns, hence my reason for deciding to proceed with this amendment. The first is the authority and influence of the commission. The second, linked to the first, is the role of Parliament and the obligation on the Government to respond to the commission’s initial report. My final concern is the longevity of the commission. There is no question that when the Secretary of State announced the establishment of this commission, it was an attempt to head off pressure to include a standards clause in the Bill. Much public comment since the announcement has described this as a sop and described the commission as toothless. This must not be a sop. The role of the commission is hugely important. It has a critical role, not only in defending our existing domestic standards but, importantly, in influencing future global standards of international trade. The current terms of reference understate the importance of the role and the influence of the commission.

Under the current terms, the commission will set up for six months and will submit an advisory report to the Secretary of State, which will be presented to Parliament. It will then be disbanded and disappear into the mist. There is no obligation on the Secretary of State to take its recommendations seriously or respond positively, and no clear indication that Parliament will be given dedicated time to scrutinise and debate the recommendations of the commission. The amendment addresses that weakness.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. As I say, that is precisely why we have established stakeholder groups as well. I think the commission is going to be invaluable to the Government; it will set the parameters and the issues at large with an expert group, but we will always continue to work with stakeholders because we want to have successful trading partnerships around the world, particularly—as I say—promoting great British food and drink.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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My Lords, I do not feel in the least embarrassed by my amendment, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. It is precisely because of concerns about the limited authority of the commission that was launched today that I have tabled Amendment 279. I reassure him that I did not collude with Defra in constructing the amendment; however, I did it with the full support of the NFU.

I will respond to the Minister’s usual very comprehensive response. I am very, very positive indeed about the future of agriculture after we leave the European Union. I have said a number of times that this is one of the most exciting points in history—in my lifetime—and we have a great opportunity to promote British agriculture, food and standards around the world. It is a really interesting and exciting opportunity.

However, I am disappointed that the Minister has not been willing to recognise the weight of opinion in the debate this afternoon. I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, will reinforce this. I ask the Minister to reflect on the comments made today before we return in September for Report. The importance of this issue will not diminish over the summer and it would be really helpful if the department were willing to table its own amendment on this subject on Report.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has answered the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, because I was mightily confused at the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, had had a discussion with me or any Defra official.

I said I had made a very careful note of the points that were made. I do not think I can say any more than that at this stage, but I will certainly be ensuring that my ministerial colleagues know the strength of feeling across much of the House. However, it is also incumbent upon me to say to your Lordships that we are a revising and scrutinising House, and the other place—the elected House—also has a very strong constitutional function to fulfil.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the point of agroecology, and some argue that organic agriculture is a better way to go to achieve fewer emissions and chemicals in farming. However, organic agriculture is a very small and declining sector of British agriculture, covering just 2.7% of this country’s farmland, and falling. Organic farming actually has higher emissions because it depends on more mechanical methods of weed control, such as ploughing and tilling and, as I have said, it depends on far more unpredictable and massive genetic alterations through mutagenesis to produce its varieties. Gene editing offers the greenest future for farming. If we want more skylarks in our fields, we should support this amendment.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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I support this amendment as tabled and ably presented by my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington and supported very convincingly by other contributors this evening. I support it for two reasons: first, it is in line with the stance that has been quite rightly taken by the Government when debating these issues in Brussels, so why would they not support it?

Secondly, this is an important test case in that our ability as an industry to explore new science is at risk if we are denied the opportunity to consult on this technology. We have world-leading science institutions and we need to re-establish our reputation as a place where sound science is welcome, trialled and tested. Scaremongering by comparing gene editing to genetic modification is unhelpful and the difference has been explained very convincingly by my noble friend Lord Krebs. I hope the Minister will support this amendment.

Finally, I endorse all the compliments that have been paid to the two Ministers—the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield—for their endless patience and gracious responses during the seven days we have spent on this Bill, and to the staff who have enabled these debates to take place with remarkable efficiency in difficult circumstances.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry. On this occasion, however, I believe this amendment is a Trojan horse seeking to end the classification of gene editing as genetic modification and replacing the EU regulatory framework with the Americans’ proof of harm.

Good regulation is about managing the risks and the benefits of a process, and while we have heard about the potential benefits of gene editing from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and other Peers, there are risks too. Although the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, may not wish to acknowledge these, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for articulating some of them. For brevity’s sake, I am not going to repeat them now.

I accept that the amendment sets out some undertakings before the Secretary of State could uproot regulations governing the food on our plate, but this Bill is not the place to do it and the amendment is, at the very least, pre-emptive. The Government must do two important things: first, they must lay before Parliament the policy statement on environmental principles as committed to in the Environment Bill, which will explain how environmental principles, including the precautionary principle, will be interpreted now we are outside the EU.

The Government have said that they remain committed to the precautionary principle. We are signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which invites governments to take a precautionary approach with regard to synthetic biology. The Americans, with their proof-of-harm regulatory framework, uphold neither the convention nor the precautionary principle. Until Parliament has fully debated how environmental principles will be interpreted now we are outside the EU, there should be no consideration of changes to gene-editing regulations.

Secondly, the Government must introduce new laws on animal sentience, as they promised to do in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. These laws should place a duty to pay all due regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings and, given that gene editing allows animals to be altered for food, would inform policy in this area. In America they sell AquAdvantage salmon, gene-edited to grow to size in half the normal time of three years. Animals are sentient creatures with intrinsic worth and should not suffer to obtain more productivity and profit. These invasive procedures can be painful, and animals that do not deliver the required traits are euphemistically “wasted”. It is not just me who is concerned. The Royal Society conducted research on gene editing in 2017 which found that the public were very concerned at its use on animals, particularly to increase the productivity and profitability of meat production.

The Bill rightly commits to the highest animal welfare standards and working within environmental constraints to enhance biodiversity and provide the food that we need. Into it has been smuggled this Trojan horse, studiously avoiding the words “genetic modification” or “gene editing”, at a parliamentary stage that limits wider debate. I cannot support this pre-emptive approach to remove a regulatory framework that takes a precautionary approach and requires mandatory food labelling. The welfare of our farmed animals, our biodiversity and public trust in our food are too important for that.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (15 Sep 2020)
Earl of Lindsay Portrait The Earl of Lindsay (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support everything that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe has said in moving Amendment 18, so I shall be brief. I added my name to this amendment for reasons I outlined at Second Reading. It is irregular for a Bill—even for a framework enabling Bill—to be sent to Parliament without any sort of formal impact assessment. It is yet more irregular for a Bill of this consequence not to be accompanied by a primary stage impact assessment at the very least.

For well over a decade, successive Governments of different political hues, have for good reason seen the requirement for departments to produce impact assessments alongside proposals for new legislation as central to their commitment to better regulation. Accompanying impact assessments enable parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny of proposed new legislation to be better informed. Parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny further benefits from impact assessments because of the role of the RPC, which my noble friend mentioned. The RPC is the government-appointed Regulatory Policy Committee which independently assesses the quality of a departmental impact assessment of the costs, benefits, risks and opportunities of a proposed new measure. It then publishes an opinion, which is available to Parliament and others, on whether the evidence and analysis contained in the impact assessment are sufficient to support whatever is being proposed. As my noble friend said, it is an essential and valuable discipline. It helps Parliament, Ministers and the departments themselves.

I am glad to say that it is rare nowadays for a department to produce legislation without an accompanying impact assessment, but it has happened in the case of the Agriculture Bill. This omission is especially regrettable, given the varying impacts of the wide-ranging measures that this Bill proposes to enable. That is why I have put my name to this amendment.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as listed in the register. I should add in relation to Amendment 18, to which I wish to speak, that I am a former chair of the Better Regulation Executive and worked closely with the Regulatory Policy Committee which has been referred to already. I also worked closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who has tabled this amendment, and with the noble Earl, Lord Lindsey, who has supported it. I fully endorse their comments. I am particularly disappointed in Defra’s poor performance with regard to the impact assessment of this Bill or, more accurately, the lack of an adequate impact assessment. When I chaired the BRE, Defra was one of the better performing departments and regularly produced satisfactory IAs. As the Minister knows well, I fully support this Bill and the policy changes it will introduce. As has been stated numerous times, this is the most serious change in agricultural policy in a lifetime. We need fully to understand the implications of this fundamental change.

Of course, this amendment is a process issue. For many, it is rather tedious and not “sexy”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, stated. However, it is a crucial part of understanding how new policies or changes in regulation will impact on those affected by it. As one well-known system is demolished and another unknown system is introduced, we have a huge void by not having an impact assessment better to understand of the economic costs and benefits of this change. I hope that the Minister will explore this further with his department and be able to reassure the House that this issue will be addressed as the Bill progresses on its journey through both Houses and into legislation.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I was happy to add my name to Amendment 28, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as I feel it is important that we debate the question of what information will be published under the new farm payments scheme during the passage of this Bill. The provisions in the Bill currently lack detail and firm commitments, and that raises legitimate concerns that we might in fact go backwards from the status quo in terms of transparency around the common agricultural policy.

In supporting the amendment, I want to talk briefly about the value of publishing comprehensive data, as described in the list set out in the amendment. There are two core arguments for this. The first is the accountability that we want for any significant public expenditure, and this Bill will certainly usher in a great deal of such expenditure. The more insight that we have into how our money is being spent, the more effectively we can hold our Government to account for it. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, certainly made that point very forcefully, and it was echoed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who in his recent lecture at Ditchley Park talked very much about opening up government data precisely in the interests of other people being able to hold the Government to account.

There is a second benefit that might be even more significant: the innovation that can happen around public datasets. The Government do their best to devise good solutions for the farming community, and I would not for a second question their good faith in doing so, but nobody has a monopoly of good ideas, and there will be people outside of government who have ideas that could be of real benefit to the UK agricultural sector. The dataset described in this amendment would provide a foundation on which those ideas and innovative solutions could be built. I draw attention in particular to making associated geospatial data available—that is, data around the parcels of land that are being funded—as this is especially useful for developers who work in this area. I understand that Defra already collects much of this data. For example, it publishes geospatial data in respect of environmental stewardship payments. Therefore, my starting point is that I do not believe that the list of data described in the amendment would add to the burdens for the farming community as it is data that it produces for Defra, but we are asking that Defra releases it to the wider world.

I hope that in his response the Minister is able to put some more flesh on to the very bare bones of the text of the Bill and that, in particular, he can do two things. First, it would be helpful if he could describe the dataset that the Government are currently thinking of publishing. I understand that they have been engaged in a consultation exercise over the summer, so I hope that they have some idea of what they intend to publish under the secondary legislation that the Bill envisages. Secondly, it would be extremely helpful if they could indicate whether they have concerns about any of the items listed in Amendment 28, so that we can focus on them and discuss them further. With that, I look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords and, in particular, the response from the Minister.

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Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am concerned that the mistreatment of and disrespect for farmers under the Bill is continuing. I speak to Amendment 36 and to support Amendment 37 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and Amendment 41.

The 2022 harvest season has begun. Crops are being sown right now that are due to be harvested next year, and farmers just do not know what rules they will be harvested under. With respect to Amendment 29, the Government accepted that expert advice and guidance is a priority for these farmers, but there is nothing to advise and guide them on—they simply do not know what the rules are going to be. Similarly, in proposing Amendment 35, the Government have accepted that the minimum reasonable period is 12 months, but they are not giving the farmer those 12 months.

There were very reasonable objections raised, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that we do not want to delay the environmental achievements due to be delivered by ELMS. I agree; we do not want undue delay. However, it would be an environmental disaster to proceed with the transition period that will be stillborn at birth.

No farmers are going to adopt this if they do not know what it is or how it is going to work, so it will be useless from the outset. We need to take time; the Government need to get responses to their tests and trials and work out what they are going to do. Rushing this legislation and rushing the transition period into being is not going to deliver any benefit to farmers, the environment or the public.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I fully support and I am very happy to attach my name to Amendment 37 in the name of my noble friend Lord Carrington. I am delighted to support him in this debate.

I am very concerned indeed about the gap in support as the current basic payment scheme is unwound and access to the new ELM scheme becomes available as planned in 2024. As I chat to farming friends, it is very clear that they remain completely in the dark and unclear on what lies ahead, as has been stated many times in this debate—and just now by the noble Earl, Lord Devon.

Smooth transition should be a priority to ensure that we unlock the huge benefits that the new policy is capable of delivering. Farmers have been supported by the CAP, with all its weaknesses, for decades, and are familiar with the systems involved, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, just mentioned. As we know, many, particularly those in livestock areas in the uplands, are currently very dependent on that support. To move at pace from where we are today to a satisfactory destination at the end of the transitional period when we have no information on the steps that are being considered by government is not only very worrying to farmers but a massive risk. Time is not on our side, as I stated in Committee. ELMS pilots are just under way and meaningful conclusions will take a couple of years or more to interpret. There will be only three years from the time the Bill becomes law to draw conclusions from the pilots and then launch the ELM scheme to the entire farming sector. There is at present no way that farmers can prepare for this change, because no information is available.

This change in policy is a unique opportunity to facilitate restructuring of the agricultural sector, but it cannot be rushed. It is reassuring that the Minister recognises that there is a gap and in an earlier debate outlined the various options that will be available to farmers from next year: new stewardship schemes, productivity grants, et cetera, to help with the transition. However, if he will forgive me, it all sounds rather last minute, a bit hasty, and an attempt to plug the gap to be seen to be doing something. I do not want to appear cynical but I am concerned that this will suck out capacity from the department and its agencies—capacity that should be devoted to developing the ELM scheme and assisting farmers with transition. It is regrettable that so far we have information only on the deduction from the BPS for the first year of transition. This amendment is important in that it is designed to smooth the process; to limit the dismantling of support from the BPS to a reduction in total of 25% until the ELM scheme is available is a sensible approach.

I restate what I said in Committee—that I

“genuinely believe that we can lead the world in delivering a wide range of crucial outcomes from the management of the countryside, provided that the policy is well designed and land managers”

have access to the advice recommended in an earlier debate and time to adapt. It would

“be a disaster if such an important change in policy was rushed through and we failed to engage appropriately”.—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2070.]

In response to the eloquent comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I say that the outcomes that he and we all desire will best be delivered through a well- managed transitional process. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the department will adopt the timetable proposed in this amendment.

Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. I am speaking to two amendments in my name, both of which received support from across the House in Committee, and both of which relate to the period before the introduction of the environmental land management schemes.

The first is Amendment 38. I have never been a particular proponent of organic farming, but we should all be worried that the area of land farmed organically in the United Kingdom is down by over one-third in the last 10 years. In this same period, it is up by two-thirds or more in most other European countries. Our performance in this respect puts us in the same league as countries such as Bangladesh, Mali, Saudi Arabia and Syria, to mention just a few. Only 2.7% of our land is farmed organically. Surely a Government who are committed to improving the environment should be prepared to expend taxpayers’ money to encourage farmers to convert to organic systems.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-IV Provisional Fourth marshalled list for Report - (21 Sep 2020)
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Holmes. He has made an eloquent case against the bureaucracy of new paper-based controls on wine. This is very timely, because Covid makes digital much more appropriate in many areas, and I look forward to hearing what can be done.

I rise to move Amendment 91 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Lindsay—who, unfortunately, cannot be here today—and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. As we are talking about marketing standards, I again declare an interest as the chair of Red Tractor. This is much the biggest of a number of important agriculture assurance schemes; ours covers £14 billion-worth of food and drink, and benefits from regular inspections by ACAS-accredited bodies to enhance food safety, traceability, animal welfare and environmental protection. As I said in Committee, we carry out regular inspections for the FSA—which has been much mentioned today—and the Environment Agency and help to promote export success based on certified standards. We support government endeavour and try to be the flagship of British food and farming at a very difficult time.

Amendment 91 is important because it strikes at the heart of the debate about the use or abuse of powers repatriated from Brussels and Luxembourg now that we have left the EU. We have seen a taster of what can go wrong in the overuse of such delegated powers in domestic legislation in the Public Health Act 1984, which we will be debating prior to the renewal of Covid restrictions next Monday, ahead of the Commons vote on Wednesday.

I should start, however, by congratulating my noble friend the Minister. This is an extremely difficult Bill to steer through our House. Agriculture, food and the environment are issues that excite us all disproportionately. I have therefore appreciated his readiness to listen and to try to get impact assessments back on the right path—which was the subject of an earlier amendment. I know that he also believes in consultation with the farming industry and other stakeholders in developing ELMS and, no doubt, in setting marketing standards, which are the subject of this clause.

My noble friend helpfully confirmed in Committee that there will be consultation on regulations made under this section—although, rather curiously, this is because marketing standards are covered by EU food law, which is being carried over into UK law. The duty to consult is contained in Article 9 of Regulation 178/2002, as the Minister told the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, in Committee. However, the provision is rather too limited for my taste. It says:

“There shall be open and transparent public consultation”—


which is good—

“directly or through representative bodies, during the preparation, evaluation and revision of food law, except where the urgency of the matter does not allow it.”

The bad news here is that consultation with the public can be direct, which is fine, or through representative bodies, which is not, as they have their own interests and axes to grind. Worse is the very wide exemption

“where the urgency of the matter does not allow it.”

This is exactly the sort of provision used in the Covid crisis, in some cases—such as on mask wearing—needlessly, as the debate about that went on for weeks and would have accommodated as well as benefited from public consultation.

In order to withdraw our amendment, my first request is for an assurance that there will be a bias in favour of consultation—open consultation, including engagement with parliamentarians, not just representative bodies, who can take too narrow a view. During foot and mouth, which was not even fatal, I remember that the NFU—which has actually done a lot today—and the food chain of which I was then part dominated consultation. However, they failed to help the Government to spot the disastrous impact on the tourist industry of closing down the countryside.

Our amendment is narrow. That is my fault, but, since I have given notice of this, perhaps the Minister could also comment on the availability and progress of consultation and/or the applicability of Article 9 to Clauses 36 to 39 and Clauses 40 to 42, which I think might fall outside food law.

The second area where I would like an assurance is, I acknowledge, more difficult. The regulation the Government are relying on—as the House of Lords Library has kindly explained to me—is contained in retained direct principal EU legislation. Such a measure can theoretically be amended not only by an Act of Parliament or by a devolved legislature, but by certain delegated powers. So in principle the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018—or, I suspect, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020—can be used to modify the provisions of the regulation on which we are relying for consultation. The former has already been used on minor BSE, plant-protection and horse-testing regulations. I should add that all of this has emerged since my very helpful meeting with the two Ministers. Will there be public consultation if these two Acts are used to amend the powers deriving from Regulation 178/2002, on which so much weight is being put? If not, the Government should come forward with a short reassuring clause on consultation, as I have been arguing throughout the Bill.

We must ensure that the Executive are not given powers that are too sweeping, or we will get into an unholy mess. To save the agriculture and food area from this fate, I make a plea to the Minister for the reassurance I have asked for and, if need be, for the Government to rethink on consultation and to follow through soon on the very welcome promise last week on impact assessments.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will be brief. I will speak to Amendment 91. My interests are as listed in the register. In addition, I repeat what I stated when speaking to Amendment 18: I chaired the Better Regulation Executive from 2010 to 2015. It is pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, with her in-depth knowledge and experience of the subject matter, and I am delighted to add my name to this amendment. Like the noble Baroness, I appreciated the commitment from the Minister that impact assessments will be undertaken as the Bill progresses.

I fully endorse the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, in particular the risks we face through time pressures to get legislation through Parliament before the end of this year. We have a very crowded programme. There is a sense of significant pressure on Defra in having not only the Agriculture Bill but the Fisheries Bill and the Environment Bill to progress through the legislative process, against the huge diversion and all-consuming concern of the Covid crisis. It would be a huge mistake if, against this pressure, Defra were to short -circuit the consultation process just to get things done. I appreciate the difficulty that the Minister is under on this issue. However, the consultation process is in place for a purpose and it is essential that we adopt best practice. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 98 and 99, in the name of my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I will not spend any time going into the substance of whether the Trade and Agriculture Commission should be extended in time or scope beyond the arrangements that the Government have already made. I support the Government in this and will not support those amendments. The Government have been clear on their policy, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard explained, and I believe that that should be enough for Parliament.

As with the earlier group—when we debated Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—if we have to have something in this Bill, which I hope that we do not, it should be drafted to reflect our post-EU place in the WTO as a full member again. It is those standards that should be driving international trade of all kinds, including agriculture and food products. The WTO is the place to argue for standards rather than using a parochial approach that might well put us at odds with the WTO, as has happened with the EU. For this reason, I will support my noble friend’s Amendments 98 and 99 if he chooses to press them.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 101 is in my name; it is not dissimilar to Amendment 97, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. My interests are as recorded in the register. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for supporting this amendment. I also thank the Minister for his open door, his willingness to make time available and his helpfulness throughout the passage of this Bill. His graciousness, tolerance and patience are very much appreciated.

I have been reflecting on what UK agricultural history will record in the chapter titled, “Membership of the European Union”. This has effectively now ended after more than 40 years. It just happens to span most of my farming career. One constant concern was what we termed “the level playing field”, which always proved to be rather elusive. We believed, perhaps mistakenly, that other member states knew how to game the system and we were committed to the rules of cricket. We are now entering the next important chapter of agricultural history and we will be trading on the global playing field. The purpose of this amendment is to try to avoid being bowled a googly from an experienced spin bowler to an unsuspecting batsman on a poor wicket.

I compliment the Government for establishing the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It was a very welcome decision and I look forward to the report it has been commissioned to deliver by the end of the year. While we are debating this Bill, the commission are researching the fine print of WTO rules. I absolutely agree that those rules should be what determine our trade policy. They are researching what is possible and what is not and what good trade deals might look like. By the time they complete their investigations and research, we will have established a wealth of knowledge on the subject. My challenge is, why, having established that resource, would one send them all home for Christmas, never to be seen again? The logic of retaining that valuable knowledge—that talent—to scrutinise future trade deals to make sure that they comply with the standards and terms in their initial report is obvious. I am disappointed that the Government have resisted the pressure to give the commission an ongoing role.

This amendment has the wholehearted support not only of the farming unions of the United Kingdom and of the CLA, but of animal welfare groups, the environmental bodies and, very importantly, the British public. Rarely in my limited experience has a single amendment had such widespread support. Many of the comments made in the debate on the group of amendments beginning with Amendment 89ZA, led by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, apply to this amendment.

Let me counter the accusation that this is a protection measure, that this is an amendment that will create a barrier to trade. This is absolutely not the case. We have no choice but to negotiate trade deals. I too am delighted that the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, has a deal with Japan over the line. She, together with the Defra Secretary, has already established the Trade and Agriculture Commission to provide guidance on the standards and principles that should apply to imported food. This amendment is to ensure that these are applied and adhered to when the deals are agreed.

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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I would like to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 101.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendments 102 and 102A are amendments to Amendment 101. Does the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, wish to move Amendment 102?

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Moved by
101: After Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade and Agriculture Commission
(1) The Trade and Agriculture Commission (“the TAC”) is established.(2) Within three months of the day on which this Act is passed, the TAC must produce a report making recommendations to the Secretary of State to promote, maintain and safeguard current standards of food production through international trade policy, including standards related to food safety, the environment and animal welfare.(3) The Secretary of State must lay the report under subsection (2) before Parliament on the date of publication.(4) The report under subsection (2) must include—(a) recommendations for the policies and legislation that the Government may adopt, including the necessary processes and institutions, in order to ensure that imported agri-food products placed on the market in the United Kingdom meet equivalent standards to those required of UK producers and that UK law and policy relating to food imports is effectively supportive of high standards, including in relation to food safety, the environment and animal welfare both domestically and internationally;(b) where relevant production standards are not provided for in existing primary or secondary legislation in the United Kingdom, recommendations for the policies and legislation that the Government may adopt, including the necessary processes and institutions (such as testing regimes, assurance schemes and certification bodies), in order to ensure that imported agri-food products sold in the United Kingdom are produced to appropriately high standards in relation to food safety, the environment and animal welfare;(c) the scope of agri-food standards and regulations for production methods and final and intermediate products that are relevant to agri-food products which the Government should aim to maintain in future trade negotiations relating to the trade of agri-food products;(d) identification of existing powers exercisable by a Minister of the Crown for administering, enforcing and monitoring standards as set out in paragraph (c), including import restrictions based on those standards;(e) recommendations about how to ensure effective and transparent comparison of agri-food production standards with international standards, including how different production systems and regulatory approaches might be considered equivalent to those that apply in the United Kingdom;(f) recommendations for how to monitor imports of agri-food products in order to assess and compare the standards as defined under paragraph (c); (g) consideration of exceptions to import restrictions of agricultural products, for instance where a requirement may have negative impacts on consumer interests or on developing countries, and recommendations of how best to manage such exceptions; and(h) recommendations for public and Parliamentary scrutiny of any current or future trade negotiations relating to the trade of agri-food products with a view to agreeing an international trade agreement consistent with the TAC’s other recommendations under subsection (2).(5) In addition to the report under subsection (2), the TAC must produce a report relating to each and any international trade agreement agreed, negotiated or concluded by the Government at any time after the commencement of this Act, prior to such an agreement being signed, considering its impact on the trade of agri-food products.(6) A report under subsection (5) must assess the terms of the international trade agreement under consideration and its impact on the Secretary of State’s ability to promote, maintain and safeguard standards of agri-food production, including in relation to food safety, the environment and animal welfare.(7) The Secretary of State must lay any report under subsection (5) before Parliament on the date of publication, and a Minister of the Crown must move a motion to consider any recommendations in the report in each House of Parliament prior to the relevant agreement being signed.(8) The relevant international trade agreement may not be signed by the Secretary of State or another Minister of the Crown within 21 days of a motion being moved under subsection (7).(9) “International trade agreement” means—(a) an agreement that is or was notifiable under—(i) paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, part of Annex 1A to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or(ii) paragraph 7(a) of Article V of the General Agreement on Trade in Services, part of Annex 1B to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or(b) an international agreement that mainly relates to trade, other than an agreement mentioned in paragraph (a)(i) or (ii).(10) The TAC may create such working groups and commission such research as it deems appropriate to meet its duties under subsections (2) and (5).(11) Within three months of a report being laid under subsection (3), the Secretary of State must—(a) lay before Parliament a response to the TAC’s report and all its recommendations, including how the Secretary of State intends to maintain the United Kingdom’s standards for food production in importing agricultural products in relation to food safety, the environment and animal welfare, and(b) make a statement to Parliament on the Government’s response to the TAC’s recommendations.(12) Ministers of the Crown must table motions for resolution regarding the response under subsection (11) in each House of Parliament.(13) It shall be an objective of the Secretary of State to achieve outcomes consistent with the relevant resolutions passed under subsection (12).(14) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument confer further functions on the TAC after the report under subsection (2) has been published.(15) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument amend the period of three months under subsection (2) provided that such an extension is agreed by the TAC in writing. (16) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (14) is subject to affirmative resolution procedure.(17) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (15) is subject to negative resolution procedure.”

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 1st October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 134-I Marshalled list for Third Reading - (28 Sep 2020)
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and before her the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Both have contributed enormously to the debates on this Bill. It is a daunting task to be speaking on behalf of my noble friends from the Cross Benches. I could not possibly reflect the depth and breadth of experience and knowledge that resides within the Cross-Bench group. It is a great honour to speak on behalf of my colleagues at Third Reading.

This Bill is of huge significance. I was listening to a presentation yesterday, during which this point in history was once again likened to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the 1947 Agriculture Act. It represents fundamental change: a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape the management of the countryside and how we redesign our agriculture. For myself, and a number of us on the Cross Benches and indeed across the whole House, farming and land management have been our main occupation and our lifetime’s work. So, to have the opportunity of participating in this Bill, trying to shape it to make sure it is fit for purpose, has been a privilege and an incredible experience.

I genuinely believe that the amendments that my noble friends and I have sponsored have improved the Bill. I will not attempt to list them, because I run the risk of missing an important contribution, but I have, once again, been so impressed by the depth of resource, the expertise and the knowledge available on the Benches. To be able to interrogate this Bill line by line and scrutinise with vast knowledge of the subject does demonstrate, once again, the value of this House.

Of course, the job is not finished: I do hope our colleagues in the other House do not dismiss our amendments out of hand, but take them seriously, recognising that they are a genuine attempt to improve the Bill and to cover issues of importance and relevance to the agricultural sector at this great time of change. Also, since this is a framework Bill, we look forward to receiving more detail in due course, particularly as evidence from the ELMS pilots becomes available. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the House will have the opportunity to comment on the ELMS pilots and the plans to roll them out nationally in due course.

Finally, it is my pleasure to thank all those who have contributed to the smooth running of the process in challenging circumstances: the Bill team was incredibly helpful in dealing with endless queries and in the drafting of amendments; the clerks, as usual, in their guidance and organisational professionalism; the many who work behind the scenes have played a key role, particularly the digital team, who successfully delivered a service to us all so we could contribute in sequence—quite remarkable technology. I thank them all very much indeed. Once again, a big thank you to the Front Bench ministerial team for their tolerance, courtesy, patience and the comprehensive way in which they responded to debates. Thank you.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I do not think we have the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, do we? No. Then we will go on to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 20th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 141-I Marshalled list of Motions for Consideration of Commons Reasons - (16 Oct 2020)
Today, I call on the House to support the amendment in my name. It allows the Government to read their manifesto commitment again and to take action to fulfil it. As a nation, we cannot produce all the wholesome food we need. We wish the food that countries sell us to be at its best. In encouraging trade to supply our food, the Government must concentrate on promoting the best to come forward—nil satis nisi optimum. The Government’s manifesto statement is not that old, so I ask the House to support this amendment with a resounding vote. Let us get standards done.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I thank him for his support. I speak to Amendment 18B in lieu. My interests are as recorded on the register.

As has been noted already, it is deeply regrettable that Amendment 18 was unable to be tabled in the House of Commons last week, due to it being considered a breach of financial privilege. I very much appreciate the Minister giving me the heads-up that this would be a possibility. During the debate, many MPs expressed their disappointment at being denied the opportunity to debate the proposals contained in Amendment 18. As a consequence of that decision, I am now tabling Amendment 18B which, I am assured by our wise officials in this House, should be compliant.

The purpose of this new amendment is to place an obligation on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on each international trade agreement, which, importantly, confirms that the agreement safeguards our standards of production for food safety, the environment and animal welfare, and if it does not, why not? The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to consult widely on the merits of establishing a body, a trade and agriculture commission, to provide the said report and advise the Secretary of State. The options could be to extend the existing commission, which, as we all know, is destined to be binned at the end of this year, when it has completed its work and produced a report on the principles and standards that should be embedded in international trade deals. In addition, the Secretary of State could take the opportunity to review the composition of the body and consult on a revised membership and remit. There would be real merit in doing that.

I have listened carefully to the explanations from the Minister on why the previous amendment, Amendment 18, and this one are unnecessary. He has taken an enormous amount of time and has shown great patience, which I very much appreciate. I have also had conversations with the Secretary of State for International Trade who has tried to convince me that there is already enough rigour in the system; that is, that the existing bodies have been given an extended remit to scrutinise trade deals and report their findings, as the Minister has just reported. I remain unconvinced and I am not reassured. To bolt on additional responsibilities to a number of agencies in a piecemeal fashion is no replacement for a dedicated, independent body providing oversight with in-depth knowledge of the entire sector, a body that is able to measure up new trade deals against the principles and standards that will have been laid out in the report from the existing Trade and Agriculture Commission at the end of this year. What could be simpler?

Let me repeat briefly what has been stated during earlier debates on the Bill. The fear of cheap imported food undermining our standards of production as a result of trade deals that have not been adequately scrutinised has united all the key stakeholders from the entire farming community, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has stated. They range from the NFU and the CLA, to vets, chefs, environmental bodies including Greener UK and Sustain, and to the general public. Over 1 million voters have signed a petition. All of them are deeply concerned, and I cannot understand why the Government continue to resist this pressure and have not responded accordingly. That is fundamentally a bad ambition in relation to our aspirations as a country—a country trading in the global market outside the European Union. We have an opportunity to set the bar and to position ourselves as a global influence with a reputation for high standards in animal welfare and food safety, along with a commitment to continue to reduce dependence on antibiotics, to restore biodiversity loss, to be the first past the post in achieving net-zero ambitions if possible, and so on.

In addition to providing consumers in the UK with what they deserve and expect, we are much more likely to succeed in export markets if these are the characteristics that mark our ambition and underpin our products. The alternative is a race to the bottom which will completely destroy that ambition and many businesses in the process. This is a crucial moment in our history and the Government’s response to this amendment will either give hope and confidence to the entire sector that they share its ambitions, or create further suspicion and deep concern that those ambitions risk being sacrificed in the urgent need to compromise in order to agree trade deals. I will reserve the option of moving this amendment and testing the opinion of the House.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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I now have a list of Members who wish to speak. They are the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the noble Lords, Lord Trees, Lord McCrea and Lord Empey, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Lansley. I will call them in that order.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle
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At end insert “but do propose Amendment 18B in lieu—

18B: Insert the following new Clause—
“Trade and standards
(1) The Secretary of State must produce a report relating to each and any international trade agreement agreed, negotiated or concluded by the Government at any time after the commencement of this Act, prior to such an agreement being ratified, considering its impact on the trade of agri- food products.
(2) A report under subsection (1) must—
(a) assess the terms of the international trade agreement under consideration and its impact on the Secretary of State’s ability to promote, maintain and safeguard standards of agri-food production, including in relation to food safety, the environment and animal welfare; and
(b) include a register of all agri-food products—
(i) that are provided with preferential access to the UK market, at any time, under the international trade agreement under consideration, and
(ii) that may be produced to lower standards of food safety, animal welfare or environmental protection than those that are in force in any part of the UK at the time the report is laid under subsection (3).
(3) The Secretary of State must lay any report under subsection (1) before Parliament on the date of publication, and a Minister of the Crown must move a motion to consider the report in each House of Parliament prior to the relevant agreement being ratified.
(4) The relevant international trade agreement may not be ratified within 21 sitting days of a motion being moved under subsection (3).
(5) The Secretary of State must consult on the merits of the establishment of a Trade and Agriculture Commission to undertake the duties in subsections
(1) and (2) on their behalf.
(6) The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament containing the outcome of the consultation conducted under subsection (5) within two months of the day on which this Act is passed.
(7) In producing reports under either subsection (1) or (6) the Secretary of State must consult with—
(a) the general public;
(b) the devolved administrations;
(c) representatives from—
(i) the farming sector;
(ii) the food industry;
(iii) consumer and public health groups;
(iv) environmental organisations;
(v) animal welfare organisations;
(vi) farm assurance and certification bodies; and
(d) any other individuals or organisations the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(8) Reports under subsections (1) and (6) must include summaries of the submissions of the consultees listed in subsection (7).
(9) “International trade agreement” means—
(a) an agreement that is or was notifiable under—
(i) paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, part of Annex 1A to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or
(ii) paragraph 7(a) of Article V of the General Agreement on Trade in Services, part of Annex 1B to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or
(b) an international agreement that mainly relates to trade, other than an agreement mentioned in paragraph (a)(i) or (ii).””
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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I beg to move and I wish to test the view of the House.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Excerpts
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to speak after my noble friend Lord Cormack, because I agree wholeheartedly with everything that he said. I especially express appreciation of the role played by my noble friend Lord Gardiner, the Minister, and our honourable friend in the other place, Victoria Prentis. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for what he has done.

I just want to add one point, which I consider to be important. I participated in the Trade Bill discussions this time and on the previous occasion, in the last Session, when the Bill was in this House. Of course, on Report we will look at the Government’s amendment on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and I look forward to that. However, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: the issue is not enforcement; it is what is in the domestic legislation, and enforcement follows from that.

The point I would make to my noble friend is that, while he said correctly that it is the Government’s practice not to ratify a treaty before it has been implemented in domestic legislation and before a debate has been concluded, not least in the other place, which might have the effect of withholding approval for ratification, neither of these things are required under CRaG. CRaG, in my view, is not yet sufficient, and when we look at the Trade Bill on Report, I will suggest that we have a report from Ministers on an international trade treaty that shows what the domestic legislative implications would be of such a treaty, which of course would embrace any changes that might be required on agriculture and food standards in this country, and would highlight that point, but might also cover environment and sustainability issues, health and related issues. So there is a more general issue about understanding that, if a treaty requires changes to our domestic legislation, we need to know what they are.

Secondly, the CRaG would require that Ministers should not ratify a treaty before the implementation of domestic legislation unless there are exceptional reasons, which the later sections of CRaG allow for. Unless there are exceptional reasons, they should not do so.

Thirdly, if there is a report to either House from the relevant committee—in our case, it would be the International Agreements Sub-Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit, and in the other place, the International Trade Select Committee would be presumed to be the relevant committee—that calls for either House to have a debate, then Ministers would be required to extend the 21-day period until such a debate had taken place—which is not what the CRaG currently says.

I am sorry, I am slightly advertising what I think we need to do on Report on the Trade Bill. I hope my noble friend will forgive me; what he said was indeed the Government’s practice, but it is not what CRaG says. I think it is important that it does say it, because that will further reinforce the parliamentary scrutiny aspect.

I could not vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, because, as she admitted, it trespasses again into turning the legislature into the Executive, by trying to mandate what are in the Government’s negotiating objectives by virtue of legislative provisions. The other place has repeatedly resisted such amendments, and it would be unrealistic to take such an amendment back to it again.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I begin by congratulating the Government on recognising the importance of Amendment 18B and for their response. As I said previously in debates on this Bill, the weight of public opinion on the issue of food standards and the scrutiny of trade deals required a response, and it is reassuring that, even with a large majority in the other place, the Government have been willing to listen to reasoned arguments. I thank the Minister once again for his valuable help and patience in this matter, and for his open door—I fully endorse what others have already said. It is much appreciated.

The progress that has now been made with the tabling of this amendment is evidence once again, if we needed it, of the value of this House as a revising Chamber. Despite the fact that there remains huge uncertainty around many aspects of the Bill and how, as a framework Bill, it will be translated into policy and implementation, there is no question that it is now a better Bill as a result of our endeavours in this House. I am, therefore, very happy to support this new amendment. I had planned to comment on the issue of equivalence, but others have done so articulately.

In endorsing the Bill and this amendment, I am very aware that this is, as has been stated already, just one side of the coin. To change the metaphor: if this is the belt, the braces will be contained in the Trade Bill. The joint announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Secretary of State for Defra that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be established on a statutory basis, and that that will be included as a clause in the Trade Bill, is of huge importance, as has been stated a number of times already.

I—and others, I am sure—will want to study the text very carefully when the Trade Bill arrives back in this House, to ensure the remit and the scope of the TAC are appropriate to the task. It is essential that in establishing the TAC on a statutory basis, its composition—its membership—is reviewed to make sure that it is more representative of stakeholders and that it has the appropriate skills and experience to scrutinise trade deals. Even though these two clauses are tabled in separate Bills, it is essential they are complementary.

It is also vital that the first report that the existing TAC has been tasked with producing is seriously considered. It is unfortunate sequencing that we are having to sign off the Agriculture Bill and will have to agree clauses and amendments in the Trade Bill before we have sight of the conclusions of the TAC’s initial report—which, I understand, may well be in March next year. It would be helpful, for example, if it said something about equivalence. It will hopefully provide essential guidance and recommend the principles that should inform free trade deals. It will be crucial that the Trade Bill wording ensures that the conclusions of the TAC report can be taken into account and embedded retrospectively within its future deliberations.

Can the Minister also reassure the House that we will have the opportunity to consider the report of the TAC when it is released—in March or whenever? I am grateful not only to the Minister, as I have stated, but to the many Members of your Lordships’ House who have supported my amendments, including the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and, in particular, my noble friends on the Cross Benches. I shall also take the opportunity, as others have done, to express my personal appreciation of the National Farmers’ Union and, in particular, Minette Batters for her help and support throughout this process.

This is one of the most important moments in the history of agriculture in Britain. Under one guise or another, I have been privileged to be involved in agricultural policy development for over 30 years, so it is a great honour to be able to participate in this Bill. I look forward to an exciting new era in agricultural history. With those comments, I conclude.